The joyless expressions on the faces of these women reflect the horrors they have seen and the struggle for survival that is now their daily reality. Génerose and Clémentine are two of six women who work with Atelier Bagira, a project initiated by the Lutheran Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo to bring skills and income to destitute widows of war.
Génerose once had a husband, but he was killed by armed troops hostile to the village where they lived. She now struggles to feed their three children plus two more left to her when her sister died. Unable to buy a home, she rents a room for her brood and faces the attendant risks. The children do not attend school because Génerose cannot afford books and school supplies, let alone tuition. She attires herself in the most meager way, as can be seen in the photo.
There is no electricity in the village, so Génerose uses an old-fashioned Singer sewing machine powered with a foot pedal. The income earned from making clothes (and now baby booties) helps but is not sufficient to satisfy the appetites of her five children. The money earned from a pair of booties will buy one scant starchy meal for the family. It will buy a quarter of a chicken or a half-pound of meat, but these are luxuries.
A European visitor commented, "I have visited this project in the Congo, and I was above all impressed by the ladies` spirit and their inner strength under the most dire and dangerous circumstances in a violent country. This project is not about charity, it is about the dignity of work and ability to feed your family. My deep respect to the women of Bagira. And by the way, the booties they make are ever so beautiful."
The Lutheran mission also runs a program for roughly 50 orphans from the village, inviting them to play once a week and offering them a robust meal.